Key Points

For the past 15 months Albuquerque has been plagued by falling streetlights. On June 8, 2021, the City of Albuquerque filed a lawsuit alleging negligence against several companies involved with these lights. Defendants include Dalkia, whom Santa Fe has contracted to upgrade its own streetlights. News reporting at the time was confused, left uncorrected a number of misstatements regarding the lawsuit, and missed entirely Dalkia’s modification of the streetlights against the recommendation of the vendor, which took place shortly before the lights began to fall. Mayor Webber is among those who are still confused. This note summarizes the relevant history of the falling streetlights, the Albuquerque streetlight replacement project, the failures that gave rise to the lawsuit, and the allegations made in the lawsuit. 

The Players and Their Roles: A summary 

The falling streetlights are connected to two different Albuquerque city projects: the Albuquerque Rapid Transit (ART) project, and the Albuquerque Streetlight LED Upgrade project, which goes under the name EnvisionABQ.

The ART project is a bus rapid transit service running almost exclusively along a stretch of Albuquerque’s Central Avenue. A minor component of the ART project included the installation of new, decorative streetlights along the ART route. The streetlights originally installed were high intensity discharge (HID), not LED, streetlights. (An example of the decorative streetlight is to the left of the ART sign in accompanying photograph.)

 

The EnvisionABQ project converted all of the Albuquerque streetlights – including the lights originally installed as part of the ART project – to LEDs. In most cases EnvisionABQ replaced the existing Albuquerque streetlights; however, rather than replace the ART project lights, in 2018 EnvisionABQ chose instead to extensively modify the existing ART project lights to convert them to LED.  To understand the role of each of the defendants in the Albuquerque lawsuit it is necessary to look at how each project affected the lights and the role the different defendants played in the two different projects.

Among the defendants, 

  • HDR Engineering was responsible for the design of the Albuquerque Rapid Transit Project;
  • Dekker/Perich/Sabatini were a consultant to HDR responsible for the planning and design of station platforms, canopies, streetscapes, and pedestrian amenities for the ART project;
  • Bradbury Stamm was the general contractor engaged to carry-out the ART project construction work; 
  • Bixby Electric and MWI were subcontractors who did the initial 2017 installation of the ART project HID street lights;
  • Environmental Lighting for Architecture (ELA) is a lighting vendor whose HID lights were selected Bixby and MWI, and approved by Bradbury Stamm and HDR, for installation along the ART service corridor; 
  • Citelum is the EnvisionABQ contractor who, in 2018, extensively modified the ELA fixtures, removing the HID lamps and replacing them with LEDs as part of the streetlight upgrade project. Albuquerque financed this project by granting Citelum a lien on all the city’s streetlights and on the energy savings it expected to gain from the conversion.
  • Dalkia Energy Solutions purchased from Citelum the lien on the Albuquerque streetlights and the promised energy savings from the LED streetlight conversion. At that point, Dalkia assumed all maintenance, operations, and other responsibilities from Citelum. 

The Albuquerque lawsuit identifies Dalkia as “formerly known as” Citelum, and uses Dalkia to refer to either Citelum or Dalkia throughout the filing. We follow the usage from Albuquerque’s lawsuit in the remainder of this article. 

We have prepared an extended narrative of the role that each of the defendants played in the ART and EnvisionABQ projects, and their connection to the streetlights that have given rise to the Albuquerque lawsuit. 

Falling Streetlights: The Lawsuit 

Having identified the players in the lawsuit and their different roles in the ART and Albuquerque streetlight replacement project, let’s look at what has happened in Albuquerque. Unless otherwise noted, all the statements in this section are from Albuquerque’s filing with the court

A total of 1,047 streetlights were installed as part of the ART project. Those lights were installed by Bixby and MWI between March and December of 2017. Sometime in 2018, Dalkia extensively modified the luminaires originally installed by Bixby and MWI, converting them from HID to LED.

In March 2020 a field inspection discovered 7 of the modified fixtures missing along the ART route. As part of the inspection it was concluded that the fixtures fell from the poles. In May 2020 another light fixture fell from its pole. In September 2020 approximately 28 light fixtures fell from the poles or were found to be unsafe in their attachment to the poles along the ART route.

In an October 2020 report to Albuquerque, Dalkia alleged that set screws provided by ELA were at fault for the falling fixtures. In this regard it is worth noting that, as the contractor responsible for maintenance and operation of the streetlights, Dalkia likely has sole access to the installed lights: i.e., Albuquerque cannot arrange for an independent inspection. If so, Dalkia was in the enviable position of investigating and laying blame for a failure of lights it had extensively modified and was responsible for: nice work if you can get it.  

In Albuquerque’s lawsuit against Dalkia, ELA, Bixby, MWI, Bradbury Stamm, D/K/S, and HRD, Albuquerque alleged that some or all of the defendants were either directly negligent, or indirectly negligent by and through their subcontractors, for failing to follow appropriate and recognized standards of care for engineers, construction workers, electricians, architects and subcontractors doing the same or similar work. 

Reactions

Responding to the lawsuit, ELA president Scott Jones noted in a written statement that the lighting fixtures that fell “are not original ELA Lighting Company’s products, but rather ELA lighting fixtures that were modified by an outside source against ELA’s recommendations.”

On June 18, Pete Dinellli, a former Albuquerque City Councilor and Deputy City Attorney, reported that Dekker/Perich/Sabatini COO Kendal Giles said it had no part in the selection or installation of the streetlights and should not have been named in the lawsuit.

On June 18, one day after news of the falling streetlight lawsuit against Dalkia et al. broke, Public Works Director Wheeler was quoted in the Santa Fe New Mexican as saying that she believed that Dalkia bore no responsibility for the failures, adding “[t]hat is how it is in the United States … You touch something that is having problems and you become involved.” It seems unlikely that, before she spoke, Director Wheeler had troubled to inform herself of the details of the suit or the problems in Albuquerque, or reached-out to her Albuquerque counterpart.

And, on June 28 – twenty days after the lawsuit was filed and nearly two weeks after it was first reported on in the press – Mayor Webber wrote “that the lawsuit that was just filed has nothing to do with the streetlight replacement project in Albuquerque. This lawsuit … is about the ART project. In that project, Dalkia came in after the ART project had been implemented, and agreed to help with the maintenance and upkeep.” Every assertion in Mayor Webber’s remarks is simply wrong. 

Observations

In its lawsuit, Albuquerque apparently named every contractor that had any connection with the streetlights along the ART corridor. Among those contractors, some had a closer connection to the streetlights than others. The most intimate connection to the streetlights as they currently exist appears to be Dalkia, who took over responsibility for those streetlights and then extensively modified them in a manner that was contrary to the the recommendations of the fixture manufacturer.

The ART fixtures provided by ELA were an off-the-shelf ELA product: their Boardwalk style light. A search shows no evidence of previous problems with these fixtures in other installations.  

It appears from Mayor Webber’s statement that he is not on-top of this issue. Albuquerque’s filing with the courts, which we summarized above, intimately involves Dalkia and the Albuquerque streetlight replacement project: Dalkia extensively modified the ART project fixtures when it took over responsibility for them. Furthermore, Dalkia did not simply “agree to help with the maintenance and upkeep”: at the same time as it modified the streetlights it also assumed all maintenance, operations, and other responsibilities for these streetlights. 

It is deeply troubling that the Mayor appears to be so ill-informed about – and, indeed, dismissive of – Dalkia’s involvement with and responsibility for the falling streetlights.  The entire rationale for Santa Fe’s involvement with Dalkia is, as Public Works Director Wheeler has expressed, Dalkia’s work for Albuquerque. 

This is not the first time that the Mayor has shown himself to be unaware of, or misinformed about, the basic facts regarding either the street lighting project or the contractor – Dalkia – that he is engaging for this multi-million dollar city infrastructure project. 

Ignoring an inconvenient truth rarely ends well.

We have already written on Dalkia’s apparent lack of experience with street lighting design, installation, and maintenance. We have also written on what appears to be a significant over-charge by Dalkia for the streetlights that it is recommending Santa Fe purchase from it. Not yet reported upon, but very relevant, is a recent public records request, which returned no public records showing that either Director Wheeler’s Public Works Department or City Attorney McSherry’s office performed any review or examination of Dalkia as a reliable, experienced, or competent contractor for doing the street lighting design, procurement, installation, operations, or maintenance.

Especially in the context of these other reports we believe Mayor Webber should make himself aware of the facts surrounding the falling streetlights and the Albuquerque lawsuit. 

Things you can do

If, after reading this report, and perhaps reviewing some of the other reports mentioned above, you are concerned that Santa Fe should look more closely into its use of Dalkia as the contractor to design, procure, install, operate, and maintain Santa Fe’s streetlights over the next fifteen years, 

  • Write or phone the City Council members and the Mayor
    • Ask them to inform themselves of the facts about Dalkia and report their findings to city residents in their public meetings;
    • Ask that the Councilors use the city’s oversight committees to provide more active and diligent oversight over the Public Works Department in this and other city projects;
    • Ask them to disentangle the City from the Dalkia contract and seek, through the RFP/bid process, an experienced and expert lighting engineer to design the lighting project, and another to install, maintain, and operate the lighting. 
  • Attend Governing Body meetings and speak-out during the “Petitions from the Floor” – usually right at the beginning of the 6:00 PM part of the meeting – and express your concerns vocally. 
  • Express your concerns in a letter to the Santa Fe New Mexican.
  • Write the Santa Fe New Mexican News Content Editor, Ms. Cynthia Miller, and ask that the New Mexican look into and report on this multi-million dollar project carefully: they have resources and investigative experience that we don’t. 

Do these things even if you already have written, or phoned, or spoken: responsible government often requires repeating yourself until you are heard. 

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See our other investigative reports.